CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO
Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration
Fall 1998

 

TO: Graduate Students, PPA 200, Section 2

FROM: Peter Detwiler

SUBJECT: Memo A --- Coping With Your Reading Assignments

I admit it. The volume of your reading assignments looks daunting. But by becoming a critical and efficient reader, you can control the time you invest in this challenge.

Recently I taught a land use policy course with a professor who earned his doctorate in the 1960s. Larry had to read continuously for his oral exams and to research his dissertation. He learned a useful technique to cope with his reading. I’ve tried his method and it works. As you read, keep Larry’s four questions in mind:

What did the author do? What is the author saying? What kind of writing is this piece?
How did the author do it? What’s the methodology? Direct observations, surveys, reanalyzing
someone else’s data, literature reviews, comparisons, personal experience, narratives?
What did the author find? What are the results?
What are the implications? Locate the piece within intellectual trends. What does the piece add
to our discipline? How does it connect with your other reading?

It helps to place the work into context. You should think about when the author wrote the work. What else was going on in society, in the economy, in politics, and in history? When you read articles in Classics of Public Administration, you’ll see that Shafritz & Hyde offer introductions to each time period. You should take advantage of those clues to help you interpret the author’s own work.

As you read each assignment, take notes to answer these questions for yourself. When you come to class each week, you can expect me to ask you the same questions. As you take notes, write down other questions that you want to ask your colleagues (or me) about what you’ve read. You‘ll find that your collection of notes will help you write your papers for this course, and they’ll help you use this semester’s readings in future PPA courses.

You can’t always make time to read every word of every sentence of every paragraph in every assignment. Therefore, you need to become an efficient and critical reader. Read for the key themes which most authors place in their introductory paragraphs. Watch for their conclusions. Work to grasp the main thoughts, rather than every single word.

Graduate education is self-education. The guided reading that we’ll do together in this course will give you the foundation you need to succeed in the rest of the MPPA program. Best wishes!

 

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO
Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration
Fall 1998

TO: Graduate Students, PPA 200, Section 2

FROM: Peter Detwiler

SUBJECT: Memo B --- Recommendations For Successful Writing

Because I value clear and lively writing, I want you to know my expectations for your written work. To write well requires hard work and frequent practice. Somerset Maugham once said, "To write simply is as difficult as to be good." I will reward your well-written papers because I know that you have worked hard to organize your thinking and express your thoughts.

The practical stuff. The other memos in the Course Reader explain the writing assignments in detail. The course syllabus lists the deadlines and reminds you to turn in your papers on the dates they are due. Sometimes you may miss a class because of your job or other obligations; your paper is still due that evening. If you turn in your paper late, you will lose one letter grade for each day that it is late. An "A" paper due on Monday becomes a "C" paper on Wednesday. To avoid such a harsh penalty, ask a colleague to deliver your paper, or send it to me via fax (327-9478) or e-mail it to me detwiler@pacbell.net

Thomas Jefferson once wrote to a friend, "Had I but more time, I would have written less." Your goal is to write the best, not the most. A tightly organized, thoughtful paper of four pages is more successful than a seven-page paper that rambles. The syllabus recommends the length of each assignment. The key is the quality of your thought, not the quantity of your words.

You will type your papers, either double-spaced or 1� spaces. Because this class is a graduate course, there's no need to play the margin game, merely to make your paper turn out to a specific length. Just leave me enough room to write comments. I once had a boss who edited my work with a sprawling red pen. He was a good writer and I learned a lot from him, but every assignment came back looking bloody. I resolved never to "bleed" all over someone else's writing. I will comment on your writing and offer editorial suggestions in green ink. As we succeed, you'll see less green ink on each successive paper.

Questions of style. Every successful writer develops a voice that communicates who you are to your reader. Different styles emerge for different situations: a chatty letter to your family isn't the same as a master's thesis designed to please your review committee. Your group's briefing book will differ from your own ethics essay that explores a dilemma between your agency's decision and your personal values. Recognize your audience for each assignment and work in the appropriate style. Here are some suggestions:

Get professional help. Strunk & White's The Elements of Style is on our reading list for a good reason. It's full of useful, common sense advice about writing clearly. I've asked you to read the Introduction and then skim Chapters 2 and 5 in Strunk & White before turning in your first paper on September 14. Take their advice and you will succeed.

Use the active voice. Writing is inherently political. Your writing communicates values and manipulates symbols. One of the most serious political problems in a democracy is administrative responsibility. In his essay, "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell compared most government writing to a squid. When threatened by outside forces, the squid hides its position by ejecting a cloud of ink and then flees in reverse at high speed. A writer who habitually avoids the active voice in favor of the passive voice dodges accountability by obscuring who is responsible for the action.

For example, consider the difference between "Your food stamps were denied," with "I denied your food stamps." Although accurate, the first sentence covers up the identity of the person who denied your request for food stamps. The second sentence clearly assigns responsibility. The difference is obvious and the political implication is not trivial. For detailed advice, read, "Use the active voice," #14 on page 18 in Strunk & White. Using the passive voice will attract more green ink than any other lapse.

Be direct. Afraid to offend, we temporize. We write, "The program's goals seem a little vague," when we really mean, "The program's goals are vague." I look for and appreciate strong opinion even when I disagree with it. Just argue your position clearly. Say what you mean. Don't fudge. Be direct. For detailed advice, consult Strunk & White, "Write with nouns and verbs, (#4 on page 71), "Omit needless words, (#17, page 23), and "Avoid the use of qualifiers," (#8, page 73).

Annoying problems. Avoid the simple writing errors that distract readers from the important things that you want them to read. You can always consult other manuals but the 11 "Elementary Rules of Usage" in Strunk & White's first chapter are probably enough. I find that the "serial comma" (#2 on page 1), "Fact" (page 46), and "This" (page 61) show up far too often.

Organization. You write what you think. To write clearly you must think clearly. Sloppy writing suggests confused thinking about your topic. Take the time to organize your thoughts so that your writing expresses your views clearly. Strunk & White tell us to "Make the paragraph the unit of composition" (#13, page 150) and to "Work from a suitable design" (#3, page 70).

Give your paper a distinctive title, just like a newspaper headline writer. You’ll find that I appreciate cleverness, even puns. A strong opening paragraph and an equally strong concluding paragraph signal your reader that you know where you want to go and where you have been. In a short paper, the conclusion should relate to the opening. For the body of your paper, remember to "Make the paragraph the unit of composition" (#13, page 15). Interior headings and bullets help your reader by signaling where you are going, especially when you shift from one point to another. Newspaper editors often insert "sub-heads" for that reason, just as I did for you in this memo.

Self-editing. No one ever gets it right the first time. Drafting, waiting, and then rewriting your work will improve your writing. You have lots of other demands on your time: job, family, other courses, community work. But you should organize your schedule so that you can outline your paper, produce a first draft, and then let it sit for 24 hours before you return to rewrite it. Your concentration to produce a first draft can keep you from seeing the flaws that you will discover with a second look. Strunk & White advise us to "Revise and re-write" (#5, page 72) and to "Be clear" (#16, page 79). Self-editing improves everyone's writing.

Your own work. Study groups can help you cope with extensive reading assignments, and a group project is one of the course requirements. You can use others' work to strengthen your own, but you must give them proper credit for their ideas and direct quotations. There is nothing wrong with "intellectual recycling" if the final product is your own work and you acknowledge others' contributions. Nevertheless, the University has a strong policy against academic dishonesty:

Regardless of the means of appropriation, incorporating another’s work into one’s
own requires adequate identification and acknowledgment. Plagiarism is doubly
unethical because it deprives the author of rightful credit and gives credit to some-
one who has not earned it.

University Manual, January 31, 1990
(UMP14150)

Post it! Put the next page next to your typewriter or word processor!

 

Orwell On Writing Clearly

 

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a

scientific word or jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"

Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays

 

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO 
Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration
Fall 1998

TO: Graduate Students, PPA 200, Section 2

FROM: Peter Detwiler

SUBJECT: Memo C --- Writing Assignments

You will write six papers for this course. This memo explains the requirements for the first five papers. Memo B offers useful advice about the practical details of successful paper writing. Please see Memo D for a discussion of the Group Project. Memo E describes the extra credit opportunity.

AGENCY-BASED WRITING

To focus your attention, I want you to write your assignments about a public agency. For example, the second writing assignment challenges you to discover how the traditional and more modern theories of public administration appear in your agency. If you work as a program analyst in the state Health and Welfare Agency's Data Center, then examine the assigned readings in light of what you already know about the Center.

If you are not currently working for a public agency, then you face a slightly harder challenge. You can examine the experiences you had in the agency where you used to work. You might be a full-time graduate student, but you used to be a planner for the City of Fairfield. To write an effective paper, you might have to call your former colleagues at the Planning Department and talk to them about your old office.

Or, if you want to work for another agency in the future, then you can use the writing assignments to get to know the new organization. You may want to use the MPPA program to switch careers from engineering to budgeting. Instead of writing about what you observe at the Caltrans District 3 offices, you could chose to write about the El Dorado County Administrator's budget office. To be effective, you will have to interview lots of people to understand what they do and how they do it. But that might help you get the job you want, right?

With my permission, you may pick an organization to write about that is not a governmental agency. A foundation, a trade association, or another third-sector organization might be an appropriate topic for your papers. In an unusual case, I may approve writing about a private company. If you have any questions about picking an organization, ask me during the first two weeks of the semester. Once you pick an agency, use it for all of these writing assignments. Please don't switch agencies without checking with me.

THE SPECIFIC ASSIGNMENTS

Editing Exercise. This assignment invites you to rewrite someone else's memo so you can practice your writing skills. On August 31, I'll hand-out a memo that will be full of common writing errors, bureaucratic jargon, and other problems. After reading the Introduction to Strunk & White and their Chapters 2 and 5, you'll be able to spot what’s wrong. If you review the "Re-commendations For Successful Writing" in Memo B, you will have a good idea about writing clearly. You'll rewrite the memo so that it communicates the intended message, briefly but with style. Your revised memo will prepare you for the semester's more challenging writing assignments. This assignment is worth 5% of your semester grade. It's due on September 14.

Theory Paper. In this assignment, you will relate your reading about the traditional and more recent views of public administration to your own agency. How does your agency reflect the early views of Wilson, Weber, and others? Do you find more modern innovations at work within your agency? This paper (four pages, maximum) relies on the readings from Stillman’s text, plus the articles in the Classics collection. Be sure to edit yourself, relying on the advice you received back on your first paper. This assignment is worth 5% of your grade. It's due on September 28.

Ethics Essay. In this paper (five to seven pages, maximum), you explore a conflict between a policy of your agency and your personal values. You can begin by identifying a policy that your agency promotes that is not consistent with your own values. You might think about a particular decision, budget choice, or project approval that ran counter to your own views. How did you recognize the conflict between your own values and the agency’s action? Did you try to reconcile them? What did you do after the agency made its decision? This essay is worth 10% of the semester's grade. It is due on October 5.

Policy Entrepreneur Paper. This paper profiles a policy entrepreneur of your choosing. Who in your agency is a policy entrepreneur? How does this policy entrepreneur influence the agency’s agenda? Relying Kingdon’s terms, describe how this person opens "windows" and succeeds with problems, policies, and politics. How does the policy entrepreneur overcome obstacles? Your paper (five to seven pages, maximum) is 20% of your grade. It’s due October 26.

Reorganization Memo. Organization matters and this assignment (four pages, maximum) challenges you to propose a structural reorganization of your agency's structure. Line or staff, headquarters or field, you can organize every agency some other way. However, if you're con-vinced that your agency's structure is perfectly organized, then write this assignment to explain why a reorganization isn't desirable. Write this assignment as a memorandum to your supervisor (or to the person who has the power to reorganize the agency). In previous years, some students have actually turned in their memos to their bosses, with interesting effects! If your agency allows it, write the memo on your regular letterhead (list me as receiving a "cc"). This effort comprises 10% of the grade that you will earn this semester. It's due November 9.

Group Project. Please see Memo D for a detailed description of the group project which is worth 25% of your grade. Your briefing binder is due with the presentation on December 7.

Extra Credit. Please read Memo E for instructions on earning an extra 5%. Due December 14.

 

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO
Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration
Fall 1998

TO: Graduate Students, PPA 200, Section 2

FROM: Peter Detwiler

SUBJECT: MEMO D --- The Group Project Assignment

Policy analysis and program management are rarely solitary experiences. Professionals must collaborate to succeed. To simulate the challenges faced by a professional staff group, you will form a working group to prepare a major policy proposal, develop a briefing binder to document your research and recommendations, and then present and defend the proposal at a videotaped briefing.

GET ORGANIZED. By September 21, our third weekly meeting, you will form a working group of four or five students. You might want to use this group as a study group to review the weekly readings. To the extent possible, try to connect with others who have different academic majors and backgrounds unlike your own. You will discover that this diversity within your working group will help you later.

GET GOING. Everyone's busy! One of the hardest parts of a group project is getting everyone together in the same place at the same time. Exchange telephone numbers and e-mail addresses and then agree on regular meetings (e.g., Wednesday afternoons, Saturday mornings). Meet on campus, in an office conference room, or at someone's home, but start seeing yourselves as a cohesive working group. If you start working together in September, you'll save a lot of late nights in early December. Graduate students from earlier courses consistently advise you to get going right away and to meet regularly.

GET IT TOGETHER. The group assignment is worth 25% of your total grade. In every group project leaders emerge, and sometimes there are even shirkers. But everyone in your group receives the same letter grade. Because we all have different talents, one member of your group may do more of the writing, while another is a better researcher, editor, or presenter. This policy intentionally puts peer pressure on your group. Some conflicts are inevitable and I prefer that you work them out among yourselves. After all, this assignment simulates a professional working environment. However, if you have a persistent problem within your group that you cannot solve, please let me know. I will meet with you individually or with your whole working group.

PICK A PROBLEM. Select a policy topic that intrigues your group. Maybe it's reversing the ERAF shift, creating an interagency approach to narcotics enforcement, or the adopting urban growth boundaries. When you're looking for good ideas, you can find useful suggestions in:

Reports from the California Policy Seminar, a joint program between the state govern-
ment and the University of California.
The Legislative Analyst's annual Perspectives & Issues report that annually accompanies
the LAO's Budget Analysis.
Reports from the Public Policy Institute of California.
Back issues of California Policy Choices, formerly published by USC's School of Public
Administration, Sacramento Center.

Feel free to consult with your current employers to see they have policy assignments that your group could handle. Ask other MPPA graduate students (including those a year or two ahead of your class), or even other University faculty members. If you get really stuck, make an appointment for your group to talk with me. I will ask you for your working group's topic on September 28, our fourth weekly meeting.

PICK A CLIENT. Policy proposals never exist in a political vacuum. In addition to picking a problem to work on, your group must identify its client. To simulate the professional setting, pick a realistic client who would be the recipient of your research and recommendations. The client should be the chief executive of the organization which would carry out your group's recommendations. The client could be the county administrator, a directly elected mayor, a state agency secretary, a department director, or the governor's senior staff.

Keep your working group focussed on the client's real needs. In mid-October we’ll read Arnold Meltsner's article about "the seven deadly sins of public administration." Try to avoid "sinning" as you serve your designated client. As your group works on this project, you should think about these questions:

What does our client need or want from our group?
What public sector actions are needed to carry out our recommendations?
What private sector actions are needed?
How can we realistically make these changes happen?
What features and processes are beyond our control?

GET IT. Beside using the Internet, the CSUS Library, the California State Library, and the Shields Library at UC Davis are excellent repositories of public documents and information about policy issues. Start by gathering background information and research materials. Don't be shy about asking the affected public agencies for suggestions and copies of their reports.

GET HELP. It’s a good idea to talk with practicing policy analysts, administrators, and managers who already know a lot about your group's topic. Learning from others is always part of the professional experience. Plagiarism is not (see Memo B). You must give credit where it is due. Each working group must make an appointment to meet with me during the week of September 28. We’ll use this opportunity to review your topic and I can suggest additional sources and contacts. Each group may make another appointment with me during the week of November 2, about a month before the project's final deadline, if you want additional advice. Also (for your sake and mine), your group should designate someone who will write thank-you letters to those people who were especially helpful.

THE BRIEFING BINDER. Your working group will produce a briefing binder, prepared as if you were ready to submit it to your client. You decide the length of the briefing binder, based on what's appropriate to the issue and the client's needs. Your briefing binder must include:

An executive summary.
An policy paper placing your proposal in context, along with detailed recommendations.
A realistic budget for carrying out the proposal.
An implementation schedule, showing specific milestones.
A political strategy of likely supporters and opponents.
A media strategy that evaluates likely outlet, coverage, and reactions.
A short speech for the executive to use in announcing the policy proposal.
A press release, announcing the proposal.
A glossary of terms.

Well written, concise, and accurate, your binder will be professional (e.g., a cover, tabs, graphics).

Here are some questions that your work group should keep in mind:

What specific actions do you recommend?
Who is responsible for acting?
What resources will they need?
Public funding?
Private funding?
What legislative decisions must occur?
What regulatory decisions must occur?
What organizational changes must occur?
Who must review these decisions?
What political actions must occur?
Who could block it? Who could promote it?
What's a realistic schedule? Deadlines?
How can we tell if your recommendations succeed?

CLIENT REACTION. I will designate another working group to play the role of your surrogate "client." On November 30, each group will give its designated client group a general, one-page outline of its proposal. The client group will use this outline to prepare questions that they will ask the presenting group the following week. Their penetrating (but polite) questions will make your simulated briefing more authentic.

THE BRIEFING. On December 7, each working group briefs the rest of us, as if we were your client and the client's senior staff. Professional in manner, speech, and appearance, each working group has just 30 minutes (maximum) to present its research, propose recommendations, and answer the client's questions. Each group member shares in the presentation.

Briefly introduce the policy issue to your audience. Set the issue into context. You can assume that the client is generally familiar with the topic. Report your research results. Present your recommendations and explain how they can be carried out. Of course, your presentation should be lively, informative, and keep your client's interest. Another working group, designated as your surrogate client, will ask you questions.

Besides the narration, your presentation should use appropriate visual aids. The University Media Service’s technical staff cautions against elaborate slide shows, videotapes, and PowerPoint presentations because machines have a nasty habit of breaking down at the worst times. Nevertheless, in previous courses, some working groups have produced impressive and reliable presentations. Using the studio’s overhead video camera is an effective way to show photographs, drawings, and printed charts. I strongly recommend that you hand out copies of any charts or graphs. If it’s important enough to put on a chart, then it’s important to hand out copies to everyone in your audience.

From their article, "Curriculum Materials Development," Charles Johns and Bruce Fortinos offer useful suggestions for preparing charts and slides for overhead projectors:

Use visual aids to enhance what is said, not as a script for the presentation.
Color and graphics are helpful additions, when used with care.
Each piece should illustrate one major point and have a short title.
Prefer the horizontal ("landscape") format over the vertical ("portrait") format.
Charts should be short and simple, large and legible.
Limit the text to six lines. Limit the lines to six words.
Letter size should be 24-point or larger.
Use a "serif" font. Avoid ornate or exotic typefaces.
Use upper and lower case letters.
Use a light blue background because it looks better on videotape.

Other guests may attend as observers. I invite the MPPA faculty to attend. Your working group may want to invite someone from your client agency. After all of the groups finish, we will briefly review what worked especially well.

We will meet in a campus studio where professional technicians will videotape the groups' presentations. We will review the videotapes the following week, December 14, as part of our final class meeting. You can copy the videotape later.

 

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO
Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration
Fall 1998

TO: Graduate Students, PPA 200, Section 2

FROM: Peter Detwiler

SUBJECT: MEMO E --- The Extra Credit Assignment

Sometimes an assignment just doesn’t turn out the way you wanted: your working group flaked out on you, you hated one of the writing assignments, or you’ve struggled with self-editing. You may write a book review to earn up to 5% extra credit.

Unlike the "book reports" you wrote as an undergraduate, a book review is a specialized form of the essay. The sociologist Oscar Handlin said that a good essay is the product of experience joined to scholarly thought. It draws together information and illuminates its meaning. That's a tall order, so here are my suggestions on writing an effective book review.

Pick it. Your first step in writing a book review is to pick a book to read and then check with me for approval. You might pick James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy or Steven Rhoads’ The Economist’s View of the World. Biographies, such as Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, are fair game. You could even review a novel that has a bureaucratic setting like Tony Hillerman’s detective story called, The Fly on the Wall. If you want some advice on selecting a book, we can chat.

Read it. Write marginal notes to yourself. If it's not your own copy, then scribble your notes on a writing tablet or on your laptop computer. The goal is to engage the unseen author in dialogue by reacting immediately to interesting or controversial arguments. Jot down your reactions so you can go back and review them later. Even a simple "Ah-ha!" written in the margin will remind you of the startling epiphany that seem so important at the time. When you disagree, write down a phrase that will allow you to come back to that point later. Marking the relevant passages allows you to chase a theme through several chapters. You can return to them and discover how the author used that concept in different settings.

Organize your thoughts. Start by re-reading "Memo A" and "Memo B" in the Course Reader, reminding yourself of the need for an effective title, a consistent theme, a strong opening and closing, and using the paragraph as the unit of composition. Now that you know what you're looking for, open the book and scan your own marginal notes. Look for the themes that impressed you. Make lists of what you liked and what annoyed you. What features stand out now that you've read the whole book? Did the author deliver on the promises made in the introduction? Did the final chapter pull all the threads together into a cohesive fabric?

Identify the main argument. The first question to ask yourself, and the first point that I'll look for, is: "What is the author trying to make me (the reader) understand?" Answer to that question and you’re on your way to writing a successful book review.

Author's justification. Explain how the author justifies the book's main argument. Give examples of the evidence that the author uses: accumulated observations, survey research, controlled experiments, logical arguments, appeals to emotion, persuasive anecdotes. Using specific examples to illustrate your explanation shows me that you've really read and understood the book.

Wider context. Demonstrate your understanding of the author's main argument by placing it in a wider context. Because you will have read many other authors during our semester, you’ll know a lot before you begin to write about this book. How did historical, political, economic, and social events influence the author's views? How does the main argument relate to:

Major themes in this course.
Other books or articles that you have read?
Your own observations and personal experiences?

What do you think? Having described and understood the author's argument, now I want to know your views. Do you agree or disagree with the author's arguments? What counter arguments or contradictory evidence did the author ignore? What faults do you find in the author's arguments? Would the author's argument be different if the book were written today? In other words, how have more recent historical, political, economic, and social events changed the context?

For example. One way to learn how to write effective book reviews is to read good writing.

I can lend you a copy of the book review, "First City: Why America should have more New Yorks," in which Jonathan Franzen reviews two books about cities for The New Yorker. Franzen's book review is an essay that interprets both authors' works in light of his own urban experience. Because New York isn't Chicago (the proverbial "second city") or anywhere else, the title "First City" is appropriately clever. Franzen opens with two personal anecdotes that reveal his urban identity: he's a traveler, he's sardonic, and he's sophisticated enough to go to the Cyber Caf�. In his review of City Life, Franzen places Rybczynski in context: Alexis de Tocqueville, Le Corbusier, Andy Warhol, George Woodward, Jane Jacobs, and Kenneth Jackson.

Then (no surprise), Kenneth Jackson appears again as the author of The Encyclopedia of New York City. Having used Rybczynki's book as an excuse to compare New York with other cities, Franzen turns to his main topic, New York itself. Skeptical that anyone could capture the essence of New York in a book-of-lists, Franzen points out the shortcomings of Jackson's hefty written monument. The two books become the platform from which he explores his own suburban experiences. Franzen concludes with a personal reflection, which takes us back to the anecdotes that opened the essay.

The product. Your book review will be five to seven pages, maximum. It’s due December 14, which is our last class meeting of the semester.

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